Forget the fact that 1988 U.S. Olympians Lane MacDonald and Allen Bourbeau, who combined for 124 points two years ago while playing in Harvard uniforms, have returned to Cambridge.
Forget the fact that 13 returning forwards--including 1988 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Peter Ciavaglia--will skate for this year's Crimson squad.
Forget the fact that the 1988-89 Harvard hockey team will have more depth at the forward position than any other team in the ECAC, not to mention the nation.
Harvard Coach Bill Cleary would rather talk about defense.
"Obviously, we're going to have a lot of firepower offensively," Cleary said, "but you've got to have defense to win games."
Tonight at Bright Center, Cleary will begin his 18th season of roaming the Crimson bench with a team that opposing ECAC coaches have tabbed as the pre-season favorite to win the league title. Last year, Harvard (21-11 overall, 18-4 ECAC) captured the ECAC regular-season title, but was eliminated in the ECAC semifinals by Clarkson and lost to Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
This year, coaches say, the Crimson will be tough up front. MacDonald, the Harvard captain, and first-line partner Bourbeau will lead an offensive attack with enough depth to fill Blodgett Pool.
But it's what happens behind the blue line that matters. Right, coach?
"The harder you work defensively," Cleary said, "the more offensive opportunities you'll produce."
Senior Josh Caplan and junior Scott McCormack, who both enjoyed successful seasons last year, will anchor the Crimson defense, traditionally one of the best in the league. Although All-ECAC selections Don Sweeney and Jerry Pawloski have graduated, Caplan and McCormack will still form a solid defensive nucleus for the Crimson.
Not unlike last year, the Crimson's main concern is goaltending; sophomore Mike Francis along with freshman Chucke Hughes of Catholic Memorial High School in Boston and Allain Roy will battle it out for the top spot. The trio has impressed Cleary so much at preseason practice that he has decided to keep the three goalies on the team.
"We might rotate them," Cleary said. "From that, something will evolve."
But for all the uncertainties at defense, the Harvard offense will have the potential to light up the red several times during the season. Besides MacDonald and Bourbeau, Harvard returns seven players who tallied more than 19 points last year.
The Crimson's four scoring lines are likely to be as follows: MacDonald, Bourbeau and junior C.J. Young (13 goals, 16 assists, 29 points); Ciavaglia (10-23--33), sophomore John Weisbrod (8-11--19) and junior Ed Krayer, who returns to the team after taking a year off; sophomore Mike Vukonich (9-14--23), sophomore Ted Donato (12-14--26) and junior John Murphy (12-10--22); senior Paul Howley (3-4--7), senior Ed Presz (3-4--7) and junior Tod Hartje (5-17--22).
"We might have a little depth this year," Cleary said. "It's the key to any success. You must have depth."
Cleary will also experiment with a five-forward power-play set of MacDonald, Ciavaglia, Young, Vukonich and Bourbeau. Cleary hopes to capitalize on Harvard's speed and puck control.
"We're going to try it," Cleary said. "Why not? If it doesn't work, we'll go to something else."
But the most important question remains: will the Crimson live up to its pre-season expectations? The national polls have Harvard ranked in the top five, and the team hasn't played a game. Too early for any predictions, coach?
"I'd rather have people worry about us," Cleary said. "I like to be in that position."